Archive for September, 2011

The Truth About Those Who Fight For US (orig. pub. in WSJ 9/27/11)

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

The Wall Street Journal

SEPTEMBER 27, 2011

The Truth About Who Fights for Us
In 2007, only 11% of enlisted military recruits came from the poorest U.S. neighborhoods.

It should no more be necessary to write this article than to prove that there were Jews killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. And yet the mythology refuses to die. Just last week, two well-educated and well-known writer acquaintances of mine remarked in passing on the “fact” that those who serve in the U.S. military typically have no other career options. America’s soldiers, they said, were poor and black.

They don’t mean this to denigrate their service—no, they mean it as a critique of American society, which turns its unemployed into cannon fodder. Especially today with high unemployment, the charge goes, hapless youths we fail to educate are embarking on a one-way trip to Afghanistan.

These allegations—most frequently leveled at the Army, the military’s biggest service and the one with the highest casualty rate—are false.

In 2008, using data provided by the Defense Department, the Heritage Foundation found that only 11% of enlisted military recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one-fifth, or quintile, of American neighborhoods (as of the 2000 Census), while 25% came from the wealthiest quintile. Heritage reported that “these trends are even more pronounced in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, in which 40% of enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods, a number that has increased substantially over the past four years.”

Indeed, the Heritage report showed that “low-income families are underrepresented in the military and high-income families are overrepresented. Individuals from the bottom household income quintile make up 20.0 percent of Americans who are age 18-24 years old but only 10.6 percent of the 2006 recruits and 10.7 percent of the 2007 recruits. Individuals in the top two quintiles make up 40.0 percent of the population, but 49.3 percent of the recruits in both years.”

What about the charge that our Army is disproportionately black? This too is false, as is clear from data for fiscal 2010 available on the Army’s website: Whereas blacks comprise 17% of Americans ages 18-39 with high school degrees, they represent only a slightly larger proportion of enlisted soldiers, at 21%.

Meanwhile, whites were significantly overrepresented among enlisted Army personnel in 2010. While 58% of Americans 18-39 years old are white, 64% of the Army’s enlisted men and women are. Whites are underrepresented to a minor degree in only one category, in which blacks are overrepresented: Army officers. While 74% of 25-54 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees are white, 72% of Army officers are white. While 8% of 25-54 year-olds with B.A.s are black, 13% of Army officers are.

Is it true that with a shaky economy, blacks have been driven to enlist in the Army in dramatically increased numbers? The 2010 numbers say otherwise. While 60% of 18-24 year-olds with a high school degree are white and 17% are black, 64% of new enlistees are white and 19% are black.

The missing bit of explanation for Army demographics is that Asians and Pacific Islanders, which make up the fastest-growing American demographic, are underrepresented in the Army, as are Hispanics. The explanation for the former is probably cultural, while for the latter it is a matter of difficulty speaking English. Only 12% of Army enlisted personnel are Hispanic, as opposed to 21% in the 18-39 year old population with a high school degree.

Why do myths persist despite all the evidence? One reason is lack of firsthand exposure to the military: Doing a journalistic embed with American troops or visiting a U.S. military base—or simply having some friends in the military—would disabuse my acquaintances of their beliefs.

This detachment is the result of a withdrawal of our urban elites from military service. And it suits the interests of many members of the urban elite to believe that the military they do not join is composed of poor, uneducated victims of an unfair society.

The hidden assumption in this myth is that an institution that is heavily black is an inferior institution. The myth of the ghetto Army is as nastily racist as it is false.

Ms. Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, blogs at World Affairs.

After Jihad (originally pub. in The Weekly Standard blog, 9/19/11)

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Sabratha, Libya—“Girls were going to school under the Taliban! I know, because I was living in Kabul in 1999.” Youssef, 45, is as insistent on this untruth as this cheerful, equable man gets. A barrel-chested Libyan who spent ten years in Afghanistan under unclear circumstances, followed by eleven years in Qaddafi’s notorious Abu Saleem prison, he was released on February 16 and hasn’t strayed far from his modest Sabratha home since. He seems happy and relaxed, and invites me to stay with his family, even after I make it clear that I hate the Taliban. He is part of another side of Sabratha, a seaside town of about 50,000 where I spent five days in August.

Best known for its Roman ruins, Sabratha also boasts about fifteen men who fought in Afghanistan: The commander of the town’s rebel brigade, Omar Muktar al Madhoury, is one of them. When I meet him in his headquarters in Zintan in late July, before Sabratha was freed, he also admits to having fought in Algeria. Now, he says, he is a “peaceful Salafi,” or religious conservative, and turns away volunteers interested in jihad. But there is a rumor now in Sabratha that he intends to take some of the Sabratha fighters to Algeria soon, to support a planned September uprising inspired by the Arab Spring.

Al Madhoury is not the only Libyan revolutionary commander with a jihadist past. Most notoriously, the new supreme military commander of Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj, 45, who fought in Afghanistan, was a founder of the Islamic Fighting Front of Libya. He insists that he refused to join bin Laden’s struggle against Jews and Christians but admits to having been in Turkey and Sudan after leaving Afghanistan in 1992. He was detained by the CIA in Kuala Lumpur in March 2004. What he was doing there is unclear.

Youssef is one of two Sabrathan men who stayed long enough in Afghanistan to acquire Afghan wives. Two months ago, his 29-year-old wife Fauzia (not her real name), the mother of his two daughters, 13 and 12 years old, gave birth to twin daughters. (Abu Saleem prisoners were allowed a 4-day conjugal visit three times a year.)

I press him on his Afghan experiences as he relaxes at his Sabratha home the day before Eid. The couple’s tightly veiled daughters looked on. We speak in a mixture of English, Arabic, and Farsi—his Tajik wife’s native tongue, and one he learned fluently in ten years in Afghanistan.

Youssef says he went to Afghanistan in 1989, when he was 23, to do humanitarian work supporting the jihad against the Soviet occupation. Youssef had completed two years toward a BA in public health at Tripoli’s Al Fatah University before falling afoul of Qaddafi. When the Afghan war ended, he entered the honey and dried food business, exporting Afghan products to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In 1997, he married Fauzia and the next year their first daughter was born. In 1999, he was arrested by Pakistan’s ISI and, in 2000, he and four other Libyans were sold by the ISI to Libya. They were blindfolded, handcuffed, beaten, and taken in a Libyan plane to Tripoli. There, Youssef entered the netherworld of Abu Saleem prison for 11 years.

Conditions had improved when he entered—previously the prisoners had only received one loaf of bread daily. But for his first two years in Abu Saleem, Youssef says, “The door to my cell never opened.”

“Then he must have done many bad things,” remarks Senussi Mohamed Mahrez, a former general in the Libyan National Army who defected to the rebel cause in April and led revolutionaries from his nearby hometown of Zwara. “He was Qaeda.”

The people of Sabratha, he elaborates, are “zunduqi wa funduqi”—hypocritical religious zealots, “zunduqa,” and licentious types who do the things Libyans associate with funduq, or hotels, drinking and whoring.

Sabratha has more than its share of women wearing the niqab, or face veil, and men in Salafi beards and gowns. There are affinities with equally stern Zintan, the Nafusa Mountains town where the Sabratha revolutionary fighters were based for months as they waited to take their city. But there didn’t seem much sin on offer at the Gamar (Moon) Hotel, where I and anyone else who wanted stayed for free in rooms whose windows were shattered by shelling on August 14. (There was no food, towels, toilet paper, or many of the other usual elements of hotel life.)

Youssef is no stereotype. He’s quick to tell me that his wife drives the family car, and the couple has Internet at home. Fauzia, who is confident and personable, tells me that she talks to her family on Skype regularly, but misses them terribly; she hopes to be able to visit them soon. And Youssef seems to bear little rancor from his years in jail. The new Libyan government, he thinks, may compensate him and other prisoners for their lost years. He intends to finish his long-interrupted degree in public health and perhaps go into business.

Youssef seems immersed in his family and I would be very surprised if he went anywhere to fight in the future. But the question still arises, what effect will the returned jihadists have on the new Libya? The official TNC take seems to be inclusivity at almost any cost. I wrote to Mustafa Sagezly, deputy interior minister and deputy commander of the 17th of February Brigade, about al Madhoury and Tripoli commander Belhaj. I ask: Wouldn’t it be better to steer clear of men with such antecedents? The American-educated computer entrepreneur replied,

Libya is for all Libyans.
Having a beautiful rainbow of views is what we want, we are sick of the 1 color, 1 man show!
Let the Libyan people choose!
I know that people will choose moderates.
Don’t worry we will be fine.
Dialogue is better than steering clear of …

To an American, this sounds dangerously naïve. This is a common viewpoint in Libya, a face-to-face society that considers itself more like one big family than like a pluralistic nation. Libya is small and an individual’s hometown can be pinpointed by his last name. A wayward son is always given the benefit of the doubt. The U.S. can only hope that Sagezli’s optimism is well founded, that Libyan social cohesion trumps ideology—and try to use its influence to promote Libya’s moderates.

The forgotten war for Libya’s West Coast

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

(A bad edit (rare at the Standard) of this appeared in the Weekly Standard blog, 9/2/2011, at

In the forgotten war for Libya’s west coast

By Ann Marlowe

Monday, August 22, Sabratha

The black SUV ahead of us is shockingly fast even in this country without speed limits. Ahmad Sola, 29, a muscular, bushy-haired fighter from the Sabratha Brigade, trails the car. Sitting next to Rowad, I’m not sure what’s going on. It is typical of this forgotten war west of Tripoli, fought largely without direction from Benghazi’s Transitional National Council and almost entirely without foreign or domestic media attention.

Since leaving the Gamar Hotel at 11 – the dark glass of many of the windows, including one of mine, bearing two foot diameter holes from missiles fired by Gaddafi’s soldiers on August 14 in the battle that freed the city – I had been driving with three young Sabratha Brigade fighters, Rowad and his brother Ahmed and their cousin Mansur. Their ostensible goal is the frontline at Adjilat, where they plan to join a large force fighting against one of the remaining groups of Gaddafi fighters. Fighters from the Sabratha Brigade say they’ve told them to lay down their weapons and save their lives, but either out of distrust or conviction they continue to fight. They are said to be a mixture of Libyan army soldiers and the notorious “volunteers”, Gaddafi shock troops recruited after February by any means necessary.

“They know the area very well,” Mansur ElFathily explains. “But today some people from Adjilat have come to explain to us how to move.” Mansur is representative of the well-educated young men of Sabratha; he graduated from high school last year and will attend the American University in Cairo soon and study business administration and finance. He and others say that the people of Adjilat are Gaddafi true believers because they are uneducated and believe what they see on official TV (now off the air).

First I ride with 19-year old Ahmed and in a car without doors or any windows while Rowad borrows a normal passenger sedan from a neighbor. Ahmed – kicked out of high school for anti-Gaddafi talk and working as a fisherman when the revolution broke out – is a natural tinkerer and hotwired this confiscated Gaddafi militia car after it was nearly destroyed in the August 14 battle..(SEE PHOTO) Just around the corner from the Gamar, we pass one of Sabratha’s grimmer new tourist attractions, a burned-out car that held three Gaddafi fighters from Adjilat. They were surrounded during the battle for Sabratha and told to surrender, but continued to drive forward. Relucantly, Sabratha fighters shot the car, killing the two passengers. The driver survived – and for reasons unknown remained in the car for two hours as he burned to death. (In accordance with Islamic law, the bodies of the three were buried by the Sabratha fighters.)

The first task is getting gas. As thuar or revolutionary fighters, the two men take their cars to the head of a mile- long lineup. “It was six days in the line a week ago”, I was told; everyone regards the hour wait now as a mere trifle. It helps that this gas provided by the TNC in Benghazi is just 3 dinars for 20 liters – in recent weeks it had gone to American price levels, 60 dinars or $40 for 20 liters. This is still the price if you buy it on the street, from the pickup trucks that sell plastic containers. Ahmed funnels the gas directly into the tank – removing the back seat cushion and opening the tank underneath – because the usual side opening isn’t working.

Next we do some food shopping. As fighters going to the frontline, the men aren’t fasting for Ramadan. But water is sold out of every market – in the weeks leading up to Sabratha’s liberation on the 14th, the electricity had been on only a few hours a day, which meant that water pumps didn’t work. There is also no fruit. Otherwise there is a reasonably full selection of the monotonous stock of small town Libyan food, at prices double and treble the usual (a can of tuna for 2.5 dinars or about $1.70 as opposed to 1 or 1.23 dinars or $.70 to $1). There’s also toilet paper – something I haven’t been able to buy in a week, since there is none in Jadu where I have been staying. Leaving one shop I see something that makes me think I’m hallucinating: a bottle of the boutique brand Jones cane-sugar sweetened green apple soda. How on earth did that make it here?

Finally we drive east 15 kilometers to join trucks of fighters from Sabratha and from Zwara, the westernmost city in Libya, at Tleel. This is an unattractive stretch of highway about 20 kilometers from Sabratha and 40 from Zwara. Adjilat is a few kilometers south of here.By now the thuar trucks boast far more heavy weaponry than a month earlier, much of it captured in the last week or so from defeated Gaddafi troops. (There are internecine disputes over the best weapons, with Sabratha and Zwara fighters saying the Zintan brigade, one of the fiercest, has appropriated more than its share.) The remaining Gaddafi forces face a more dangerous enemy now than even a couple of weeks ago.

Amid the countless shouts of “Allahu Akbar”, booms of incoming fire ring out. I’m told not to stand in the opening between two buildings while taking photos, though many fighters mill about. Mansur, Ahmed and Rowad now say they won’t go onto Adjilat. Ahmed’s car has been deemed unworthy of the front and apparently Rowad doesn’t have permission to take his borrowed passenger sedan, which already had a thick crack running the length of the front window. Instead, Rowad decides to visit some elderly or housebound people to bring them packaged food, As soon as I get in his car, shells land just behind us.. Rowad motions me to get down – the front seats are already conveniently set at first class airline recline levels – and guns the engine.

A mile down the road, driving as though nothing had happened, he spots a car full of old men and pulled over. Greeting them civilly, he offers them a handful of cans of tuna and tomato sauce and packages of pasta –the staple Libyan diet. As we drive away, he confides that they are Gaddafi true believers. The food distribution – which seems to come from the fighters’ now-no-longer needed provisions – is meant to convince the diehards that the regime propaganda against the revolutionaries is false.

Closer to Sabratha, Rowad pulls into a group of middle-class houses. No one is around. Then we spot a solitary man sitting in a traditional mejlis on the floor. Rowad stacks a few days’ worth of food and water in front of him. His name is Mohamed El Jar and his two sons were impressed into the Libyan army, he says. He is 76 and alone and hasn’t been out in eight of nine days.

As we drive back to the center of Sabratha, Rowad pulls in behind the speeding black SUV.
It becomes clear that its goal is the Sabratha hospital, a makeshift affair; the Gaddafi regime began a giant new hospital near the sea twenty years ago and it still stands incomplete. By the time we entered the ER the wounded fighter is already on a hospital bed and hooked up to an IV.

He’d been shot at Tleel. He was much older than the norm, maybe mid fifties. Unlike the young men, who wore the baggy fatigues with lanky grace, the middle aged look imprisoned by them. He had a thick grey beard which made it difficult to see the wounds to his carotid artery and larynx. Dr. Ibrahim Ali, a Sabratha native returned from his home in the UK to treat the war wounded, said his wounds were very serious, “but we will do what we can for him.”

A few days later, I find out that he died.